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#EndSARS: Court Adjourns Suit On Attacks On Media Freedom, As SERAP Seeks Probe Of False Posting

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed “to probe false posting on the Ministry’s official Twitter handle of court proceedings in a lawsuit against him and the National Broadcasting Commission [NBC], asking the court to declare arbitrary, illegal, and unconstitutional the N9m fines imposed on Channels TV, AIT and Arise TV over their coverage of the #EndSARS protests, and to stop the NBC from collecting the money.”

According to SERAP: “The Ministry of Information and Culture had after the court hearing last Friday posted on its Twitter handle a story falsely claiming that the suit had been dismissed. But contrary to the report, the suit, which came up for hearing at the Federal High Court [Court 10] Abuja, was adjourned to Wednesday, 10 March 2021 for the hearing of SERAP’s originating summons and the preliminary objections filed by the NBC and its Director-General.”

In a statement today by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “While there is a legitimate public interest in informing the public about court proceedings, any such reporting ought to accurately reflect the proceedings. It’s deeply disappointing that the Ministry, which is yet to file any court process in response to the suit, posted and promoted on its Twitter handle a story claiming that the suit against it and the NBC had been struck out.”

SERAP said: “The posting on the Ministry’s Twitter handle threatens to impede or prejudice the outcome of this case. For the sake of a fair administration of justice, the rule of law, and consistency, we urge Mr Lai Mohammed to promptly and thoroughly probe the false posting, and ensure that the story is immediately removed from the Ministry’s Twitter handle and its other platforms.”

According to SERAP: “Freedom of expression and media freedom are a prerequisite to any serious fight against corruption and impunity. We will continue to fight to protect these fundamental freedoms. Cases are won in court, and not on social media. We will see the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed in court in March 2021, equipped with the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] and international human rights law.”

The statement, recalling what happened in court, read in part: “It would be recalled that SERAP had in October filed two court papers in this suit; the first is a motion exparte and motion on notice for an interim injunction to stop the NBC from collecting the fines of N9 million on Channels TV, AIT, and Arise TV for purported “unprofessional coverage” of the #EndSARS protests across the country. The NBC and its Director-General stated in court on Friday that the fines have been paid.”

“As a result, SERAP’s lawyer applied to withdraw the motion for interim injunction, and on this basis, the court struck out both our motion exparte and motion on notice, as well as the counter-affidavits and written addresses filed by the NBC and its Director-General, in response to our interlocutory application.”

“The second court paper filed by SERAP is the originating summons dated 30 October, 2020. This is the substantive suit challenging the legality and constitutionality of imposition of fines on media houses by the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed. This suit still subsists. The court has adjourned the suit to Wednesday, 10 March 2021 for the hearing of SERAP’s originating summons and preliminary objections filed by the NBC and its Director-General.”

The suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1436/2020, was filed by SERAP, 255 concerned Nigerians; Premium Times Services Limited; Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development; HEDA Resource Centre; International Centre for Investigative Reporting; African Centre for Media and Information Literacy; and Media Rights Agenda.

The suit, read in part: “The Plaintiffs are seeking an order setting aside the arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional fines of N9 million and any other penal sanction unilaterally imposed by the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed on Channels, AIT and Arise TV, and on any other radio/television stations simply for carrying out their professional and constitutional duties.”

“Section (2)(n) of the NBC Act and the Broadcasting Code are oppressive, and clearly inconsistent with the Nigerian Constitution and the country’s international obligations. If the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed are allowed to continue to use these oppressive provisions against independent media in the guise of performing their statutory duties, the end result will be authoritarianism and denial of freedom and liberty.”

“It is the duty of the government to allow the legal and judicial powers of the state to function properly. The NBC, being a regulatory body, is not empowered by law to act as the prosecutor and the judge; all at the same time.”

The Plaintiffs are also seeking the following reliefs:

A DECLARATION that section 2[n] of the NBC Act and Broadcasting Code used by the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed to impose fines, sanctions and any other penalties on television, radio and on-line broadcast stations and media houses are draconian, inconsistent, and incompatible with the right to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom guaranteed under sections 22 and 39 of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 [as amended], Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

A DECLARATION that the action of the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed in relying on section 2[n] of the NBC Act and Broadcasting Code to unilaterally impose punishments such as fines and other sanctions on television, radio and on-line broadcast stations and media houses without recourse to the court violates sections 6[1] & [6][b] and 36[1] of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999;

A DECLARATION that section 2[n] of the NBC Act and the Broadcasting Code, being inconsistent and incompatible with sections 22, 36[1], and 39 of the Constitution of Nigeria, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, are null and void to the extent of their inconsistency and incompatibility;

A DECLARATION that the fine of N3m each imposed on Channels, AIT, and Arise TV by the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed for their coverage of the #ENDSARS protests violates the right to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom guaranteed under sections 22 and 39 of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and therefore null and void;

A DECLARATION that the fine of N3m each imposed by NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed on Channels, AIT and Arise TV for their coverage of the #ENDSARS protests without giving the affected media houses the opportunity to respond to the allegations leveled against them and recourse to the court violates sections 6[1] & [6][b] and 36[1] of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 and therefore null and void;

A DECLARATION that the action by the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed to unilaterally impose the fine of N5m on Nigeria Info 99.3 FM without giving the radio station the opportunity to respond to the allegations leveled against it violates the right to fair hearing, enshrined in section 36 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999, and therefore null and void;

AN ORDER OF PERPETUAL INJUNCTION restraining the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed from imposing fines or doing anything whatsoever to harass Channels, AIT, and Arise TV and any other radio and television broadcast stations, in violation of the section 6[1] & [6][b], 22, 36[1], and 39 of Nigerian Constitution 1999, Article 9 of the African Charter of the on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

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